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Politics and the Holiday Table


By Jane Benjamin, PhD, Clinical Director, The Counseling Center

Dec. 19, 2018:  Many people experience some degree of anxiety, sadness, wariness, and dread when anticipating having to manage adult relationships over the holiday dinner table. Will there be tension? Will everyone behave themselves? Will Aunt X or Uncle Y drink too much and end up maudlin or combative? Young adults headed home to their families of origin often fear being pulled back into old family dynamics, of reverting to the patterns of behavior and emotion that in one form or another define all family relationships. And then there are the mundane worries: Will the food come out well? Will the weather cooperate? Will everyone travel safely?

In recent years, an additional factor has intensified the built-in stress of holiday meals: The country’s widespread political acrimony now seems more pronounced than most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Some families are lucky enough to all fall on the same side of the political divide, but more often than not, holiday gatherings composed of people with a range of political views. So how best to deal with the possibility that conversations may turn political and contentious and spin out of control?

In most cases, we know before we sit down to a holiday dinner that we will not see eye to eye with certain people at the table. Only rarely do our differences first come to light over hors-d'oeuvres or dessert. Nonetheless, we often act surprised, even outraged, when disagreements arise. Why? Human beings have a natural desire to feel part of a unified clan ... a family that shares similar beliefs, moral values, and a view of the world. A biological imperative underlies our desire for family members, on whom we often depend to help fulfill essential needs, to think and feel as we do in fundamental ways. The need to belong is so powerful that encountering vast differences between our beliefs and those of other family members can produce an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. Disagreeing with a family member feels much more upsetting, and has the potential to create more emotional volatility, than disagreeing with a random person. The holiday table becomes a highly combustible place.

If a political discussion does arise, it’s important to ask yourself, “What is my goal in debating?” Are you actually curious about what the other person thinks about a particular subject? Do you want to understand the other person’s point of view? If the answer is “no,” then how do you expect the discussion to unfold? Will it inevitably become one of the butting heads? Perhaps in these instances, it’s best to avoid political topics altogether.

It’s also important to ask yourself if you truly expect to change someone’s mind. Such an agenda often leads to each side digging into a position while emotions escalate. Adrenaline surges, tempers flare, and angry exchanges flow. It’s important to remember that once the nervous system is sufficiently over-stimulated or flooded, a fight or flight response kicks in, creating a desire to attack or run. Things are said and later regretted. This heated state often leads people to move from criticizing the other person’s ideas to denigrating his or her character. We say things like: “Only an idiot would believe that.” “That’s what racists say.” “I don’t know how you can be this ignorant,” etc. The possibility of constructive dialogue is lost.

So if you feel yourself heating up, it’s best to pause and de-escalate. A number of small, fairly invisible practices can calm your nervous system while you remain in the social situation. You can take a moment of “mindfulness” in which you shift your attention away from the conversation and focus on noticing how you feel ... Are you tense? Are your toes curled? Are your shoulders up around your ears? Notice the chair under you, your feet flat on the floor, your spine against the seatback. Simply bringing attention to the body in this way will be instantly calming.

Some invisible isometric exercises can also help calm the nervous system: Push your hands together, or push down on your chair. Clench your teeth and then relax your jaw. Press your feet into the floor and then release. And most important, breathe ... full, deep breaths.

De-escalating tense, vitriolic conversations is not easy, particularly when they involve someone you care about, someone you love. Finding the strength to manage conflicts and preserve relationships with family members can be a struggle. In these instances, it’s essential to engage not just your mind but also your heart. Tapping into the affection you feel for the person, despite your opposing viewpoints, is an excellent way to cool a heated argument. Remember the ways in which you do feel connected to this person, the qualities you appreciate, the areas where you find common ground, the history you share. Re-engaging with your heart can help to infuse any conversation with the warmth and goodwill that we all hope to feel during the holiday season. 

The Counseling Center offers a warm, safe, and confidential place to get help. It has offices in The Reformed Church of Bronxville as well as in Scarsdale, Riverdale, and New York City. For more information, visit or call its clinical director, Dr. Jane Benjamin, at 914-793-3388.

Pictured here: Dr. Jane Benjamin.

Photo courtesy The Counseling Center



The Community Fund is Relaunching the CF Covid-19 Relief Fund

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By Amy Korb, Executive Director, The Community Fund Sep. 23, 2020: On September 16, The Community Fund announced the Relaunch of the CF Covid-19 Relief Fund in response to...

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Community Service Organizations Directory

Community Service Organizations

Bronxville Beautification Council

Organized in 1982 and incorporated in 1993, the Bronxville Beautification Council (BBC) is a not for profit organization administered by a Board of Directors. Its mission is to enhance and maintain the natural and man-made beauty of Bronxville Village, with emphasis on the downtown business district of Bronxville. The BBC uses the dollars raised in its annual spring solicitation letter to residents to fund the mum, tulip and summer flower plantings downtown and at traffic intersections, as well as the summer hanging baskets. Every few years the group spearheads such major endeavors as the renovation of Leonard Morange Square on the west side of the railroad tracks and the beautification of the Lawrence Hospital traffic circle, which included the addition of plants and the building of the fountain that now makes a gracious western portal to our town. The BBC also works with other civic groups to monitor the aesthetics of retail signage, the consistency of sidewalk materials, and litter and graffiti. During Beautify Bronxville Week, the BBC sponsors a poetry reading and works with Scout groups on the annual village clean-up. 

Bronxville Beautification Council
PO Box 127
Bronxville, New York 10708

Bronxville Boy Scouts

The village of Bronxville has a long tradition of scouting. “The troops and packs of Bronxville have maintained the finest scouting organizations and have taught the boys of the Bronxville area to be leaders and outstanding members of the local, national and global communities.”

There are several Boy Scout Troops in Bronxville, including Troops 1, 2, 4, and 5.

Bronxvillle Girls Scouts

The Girls Scouts is “the world’s preeminent organization dedicated solely to girls where, in an accepting and nurturing environment, girls build character and skills for success in the real world.” In Girl Scouts, “girls discover the fun, friendship and power of girls together. Through the many enriching experiences provided by Girl Scouts, they can grow courageous and strong.”

Bronxville Historical Conservancy

The Bronxville Historical Conservancy was founded in 1998 to further the understanding and appreciation of the history and current life of the village. The Conservancy furthers its mission through the presentation of programs, publications, lectures and special events that foster an awareness of the village's architectural, artistic and cultural heritage, and lends its support for projects designed to strengthen and preserve those legacies. Anyone who is interested in the Bronxville and its history can become a member; varying levels of membership are available. 

Bronxville Historical Conservancy
PO Box 989
Bronxville, New York 10708


Bronxville School Foundation

The Bronxville School Foundation, founded in 1991, is a non-profit organization independent from the school with the sole purpose of supporting the school. The Foundation raises money each year through donations from school families, community members, and alumni, among others.These contributions fund grants that provide cutting-edge technology, innovative programs and curriculum and other resources that are beyond the scope of public school funding.

177 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, New York 10708

Bronxville Women’s Club

The Bronxville Women’s Club offers lectures, exhibits and concerts. It also has a beautiful clubhouse which is available for rental for events.

135 Midland Avenue
Bronxville, New York 10708

Bronxville Youth Council

The Bronxville Youth Council provides volunteer and leadership opportunities for high school students in the village of Bronxville.

177 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, New York 10708
914-395-0500 ext 1789

Counseling Center

Founded in 1971, the mission of the Counseling Center “is to provide a wide range of psychotherapeutic and counseling services to individuals, couples and families by a staff of highly trained, experience and dedicated psychotherapists. 

The Counseling Center
180 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, New York 10708

Community Fund of Bronxville, Eastchester & Tuckahoe

The mission of the Community Fund is “to support broad social services in Bronxville 10708, Eastchester and Tuckahoe through grants and technical support to local agencies and community projects. All money raised here in our community stays here in our community.” 

15 Park Place
Bronxville, New York 10708

Friends of the Bronxville Library

The Friends of the Bronxville Library is a not-for-profit membership association whose mission is to focus attention on the “Library’s services, facilities and needs” as well as sponsor projects and provide materials that are beyond the reach of the Library’s regular budget and perform other services. 

Junior League of Bronxville

The Junior League of Bronxville is “an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and to improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.”

Rotary Club of Bronxville

The mission of the Rotary Club of Bronxville is to “encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and to encourage and foster (1) the development of friendships within the community as an opportunity for service, (2) high ethical standards in business and professions, (3) the application of the ideal of service of each member to his personal and business and community life and (4) the advancement of international understanding, good will and peace through a world fellowship.” 

Senior Citizens of Bronxville

Senior Citizens of Bronxville is a not-for-profit organization that provides services and programs to seniors within the 10708 zip code area. “Programs cover a wide range of activities from educational seminars and cultural enrichment, to community services, bridge classes and exercise.”



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